27 July 2006

on fire with the things i could have told you.

17 - 19 July 2006

Our trip to Jordan was beautiful, but I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. We spent the first day at the Roman ruins of Jarash before going to a stunning resort on the Dead Sea (to which I'll be returning next year!). Tuesday, we went to the ruins at Petra (a city carved into rose-colored mountains) and Mount Nebo, where Moses apparently saw the Holy Land. With all of the driving (through the desert, of course), I finally had an opportunity to really reflect on the events of the past week. To be in Israel and Palestine studying the conflict was surreal enough, but to have waited out Hezbollah's longest range rocket attack in history in a bomb shelter was more than I ever imagined. Everything always seemed so far away from us - we watched the situation in Gaza unfold on television as though it were thousands of miles away. Even the Hezbollah kidnapping and threats of rocket attacks felt like headlines and not reality. Less than an hour before Haifa was hit the first time, we were being assured by Israeli citizens, IDF soldiers, and our professors that Hezbollah would/could never hit Haifa. It's mentally overwhelming how quickly things can change here.

Sunday made me appreciate just how much everything depends on a small twist of fate. Erin and I had every intention of waking up early to make it to Haifa in time for her 10 AM meeting that morning, but we stayed up late the night before and slept through our alarm. Had we been morning people, we probably would have been in the train station when the rocket landed and killed eight people, instead of her enroute on a later train and me waiting for a bus in Tel Aviv. Moral of the story: nothing wrong with sleeping in occasionally.

Riding back from Tiberius on the bus after we first heard of the attack, I witnessed how complicated loyalties are in this conflict. From the bus, Erin and I saw fireworks being launched from Israeli Arab villages. The nice explanation is a wedding, but the more likely version is celebration of the rocket attacks. My sympathies lie on the Palestinian side of this conflict, and I oppose most of Israel's policies, but that sight left me absolutely furious. No one should celebrate violence. EVER. What is this going to achieve? The more people emphasize their differences within Israeli society, the harder it will be to overcome the past when a settlement finally comes. Israeli civilians don't deserve to die because of where they live and what their military is doing, and by the same token, neither do the Lebanese or Palestinians. Human life is inherently valuable, no matter what someone's ethnic or religious background.

I've been rethinking my views on the death penalty for a while now, but living here for the past month has convinced me it can't have a place in a democratic society. The average citizen is innocent in this conflict - I don't buy the argument that all Israelis serve in the military, so there are no civilians, that the Lebanese people have allowed Hezbollah to control the south and thus they support them, or that Hamas leaders hide in civilian areas, making Palestinians legitimate targets. All sides need to stop killing each other if anything is ever going to change in this region. I talked to someone who said that Israel had a right to defend itself and destroy Hezbollah first (even if that meant taking hundreds or even thousands of Lebanese civilians with them), then they could talk about peace negotiations. That's absurd. No Israeli would ever want that solution if it were reversed, and it's ridiculous to assume that the other side would just roll over and take the violence and then accept a settlement on the victor's terms. That's not peace, it's just a temporary ceasefire until both sides can regroup, and civilians on both sides continue to live in fear.

Back in Gainesville, I know both Jewish and Arab (led by Palestinians and Lebanese) students organizing demonstrations to show their solidarity with Israel or Palestine/Lebanon. I've received emails from both listserves inviting me to join them, and even if I wasn't across the pond, I'm fed up with both sides to the point where I would never go. American Jewish friends are convinced the entire Arab world is erupting in celebration of dead Israelis after watching one story on the news, and Arab friends believe Israelis won't stop until they've leveled Beirut. Armchair mid-east "experts" regurgitating the latest headline are driving me mad. I'm sitting in the region, and the vast majority of people just want to live their lives without fear of death from a sudden rocket attack or airstrike. No sane civilian wants to live in a state of heightened warfare, no matter their political views or distaste for the people on the other side. In my experience, most people are indifferent towards the "other-" not really interested in getting to know them, but also not wanting to see them slaughtered. It's a "live and let live" attitude over here, which isn't acceptance but is certainly better than hatred. I can't stand the demonization of the "enemy" present in the rhetoric on all sides, but I'm more committed than ever to spending my life working for peace in the region. I recognize that it's easy for me to remove myself from the conflict and be furious with both sides because I don't fully understand the conflict as part of my own life, but I'm hoping that neutrality can be an asset.

I'm tired of this being about where you're from or what language you speak - why isn't Gainesville demonstrating for peace, Jewish students alongside Arab students? I don't want to hear that Hezbollah started it (they did) or that Israel's response is disproportionate (it is) - the point is, civilians are dying on both sides, and people are pointing fingers like kindergarteners. Erin and I were explaining why we came to Istanbul to a vendor in the bazaar, and the man condemned violence but especially criticized Israel for killing civilians. Newsflash - we left Haifa because Hezbollah also kills civilians - yes, far more Lebanese have died, but in the end, does it really matter from which side innocent deaths come? For me, the "civilian" adjective rings far louder than the number or nationality. Two wrongs don't make a right, and until "we" replaces "they," nothing will ever really change.

No comments: